Thursday, 24 August 2017

Mediterranean Gulls

I suppose I chose to end my trip to the UK pretty much where I had started it, back on the Yorkshire coast at Bridlington, only this time taking in both Flamborough and Scarborough along the way. I once more stayed in a bed and breakfast which I once more rather enjoyed, this time ‘Winston House’ which was altogether fine and much like the one I had stayed in the month before. It had been a bit of a toss up between Flamborough and Spurn at the outset, but as the latter was just so awkward to reach by public transport and lacked much in the way of places to eat, the former easily won out. Despite being a week or so too early for every one of the hoped-for east coast rarities, I was still hoping that this time I might connect with one or two migrants along the coast, and that was precisely what happened: I connected with one migrant! Nothing special, unfortunately, just yet another Northern Wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe, only this time one that at least proved more confiding than any of the previous individuals had done.

I traipsed on to the headland from South Landing on Tuesday, and from Flamborough village on Wednesday. It was obviously always unlikely that I would pick anything out from the head absent a scope, and in the end I contented myself with snapping away at whatever was passing by close inshore. This meant gulls, mostly big ones, and I was surprisingly quite happy with that. My favourites were probably the three juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gulls Larus fuscus that headed south just below the cliff top. These were wonderfully dark compared to everything else passing by (due to very blackish-looking greater coverts and 'hands'), with contrastingly white rumps and uppertails. A seemingly now obligatory Little Egret Egretta garzetta also put in an appearance.

Rather strangely, I ended up with very few juvenile European Herring Gulls Larus argentatus on my camera from Flamborough Head, despite the fact that plenty had been passing. This hardly mattered as there were very many more to play with in Bridlington Harbour, although most were far too close to do much with (even within touching distance) or to get any pictures of spread wings. This is another gull with a decidedly attractive plumage as juvenile, with those beautifully patterned and subtly rusty-toned greater coverts and big pale panels in the 'hands'. I seemed to recall European Herring Gulls looking greyish at this age, but all the birds in Bridlington Harbour were the same kind of warm brownish, with basically no variation apparent whatsoever.

Great Black-backed Gulls Larus marinus were around, too, though juveniles seemed to be a bit on the scarce side, with one or two passing the head and others to be had in the harbour. These were by far the palest and most intricately patterned of the big gulls, and also much the largest!

Other age classes of European Herring Gull were also around, both at the head and in the harbour. The most puzzling age class for me was first-summer to second-winter, i.e. juvenile-like birds in primary moult (hence at least one year old). As I’m these days much more familiar with taimyrensis gull than with any of the other big ones, I was left scratching my head for a bit over these birds as this plumage stage is effectively skipped by taimyrensis (which resembles more a third-winter big gull by its second-winter). With so many adults present in the harbour, there were also plenty of opportunities for some nice portrait shots.

Other gulls snapped off on Tuesday and Wednesday included both Black-legged Kittiwake Rissa tridactyla and Common Gull Larus canus, though the latter were always a bit distant.

I did get a few other things from Flamborough Head, including two very distant Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus and at least five Arctic Skuas Stercorarius parasiticus. As all of these were at range, and the prospects of anything new showing up Thursday virtually nil, I decided to head up to Scarborough to try for the resident Mediterranean Gulls Ichthyaetus melanocephalus at Holbeck Car Park. There were no gulls in or around the car park when I arrived, but it was easy to pick out one or two adults sitting on the rocks below the car park, so down I went to try and entice them in with a cheese sandwich! This now very familiar and much touted ploy worked a treat, as all you have to do is attract the attention of just a single passing gull and all the others come streaming in. The Mediterranean Gulls are well used to this now, and the second bird in was a moulting adult (quickly followed by at least five more individuals).

One of the birds was a younger individual, most likely an advanced-looking first-summer to second-winter, as it had large amounts of black still in its bill and legs, together with some evident in P8-9 (I assume P10 to not have started growing yet on this bird).

These birds really did make short work of the sandwich I had prepared for them, so much so that in the end to get them in again I also had to give them mine, leaving me hungry but happy as I had photos on my camera for a very pleasant change.

Once the sandwiches were done, that was it and the birds returned to the rocks. Some of them proved more approachable out on the rocks and the stroll out to get better shots of them also allowed me to add Sandwich Tern Thalasseus sandvicensis to my photographed list for this trip.

At least three individual Mediterranean Gulls were ringed, normally something I shun as I feel all that bling ruins the aesthetic of the photograph. However, I don’t believe that Mediterranean Gulls are ringed locally at Scarborough, and are only done so much further afield (i.e. in Eastern Europe). The ringed individuals were 3LAN, PNN5, and the unfortunately-numbered H1N4.

After playing with these for a while I decided it was time to head for home. My final jaunt away from ‘home’ had in the end proven been a very worthwhile one, even if I had nothing especially rare on my camera, and this trip out to the Yorkshire coast by far the most enjoyable excursion I had made I the UK all summer! Above photos taken at Flamborough, Bridlington, and Scarborough, East and North Yorkshire 22-24/8/17.

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